Monday, October 21, 2013

We Have Moved!

Friends, we are happy to share the news that Art of the Rural has moved to a newly designed space at

Please adjust your bookmarks and RSS feed and join us over there!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Making The Move: The New Art of the Rural Site

Dear Friends, Readers, and Collaborators:

I am excited to report that we will soon launch the new Art of the Rural site -- located at 

Many thanks to Epicenter, Nick Zdon, and Nicole Irene for their work in bringing an expanded visual design and functionality to our efforts. 

And many thanks to everyone who has offered encouragement and guidance as Art of the Rural has taken the long path from blog to arts organization. No amount of words can express my gratitude.

See you very soon at

Matthew Fluharty

Monday, March 4, 2013

Three Years of Art of the Rural

Photograph from the Morgan Cowles Archive (selection); The Center for Land Use Interpretation

By Matthew Fluharty, AOTR Director

Earlier this winter we marked the three year birthday of Art of the Rural. As folks may have noticed, our regular online features have slowed considerably during this period. This is for good reason, though, as we are planning to launch -- in little over a month -- a newly redesigned site, as well as a host of new programs. In perhaps the best present for a website's third birthday, we're happy to report that this will likely be the final post in this domain name until we finally move to our permanent home at

These new developments are partially due to the natural expansion of the AOTR mission, but they are also in response to feedback and lessons learned in the early months of the Rural Arts and Culture Map project; while the Map will still be accessible on the right hand column on this site in the interim, the new AOTR site will exponentially increase our ability to highlight the powerful work and connections that are beginning to percolate in that space. In essence, we will be re-launching the Map as well on the new site. We are grateful to the continued guidance from our collaborators at Appalshop, Feral Arts, and the M12 art collective, and to the Rural Policy Action Partnership and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for the opportunity to create this resource.

In addition to this, we are very excited to share some large-scale Map projects after the site's re-launch. Some of our partners include a major national music archive, a leading arts and administration university program, an influential fiction writing review, and an emerging consortium of arts and cultural leaders from the American West.

Through our conversations with these Map collaborators, we've come to an evolving ethic that will guide our work from Year Three forward: while all of us can utilize the internet, social media, and its digital applications to collapse the distance between artists, their communities, and broader audiences, we cannot congratulate ourselves if our efforts end there. What we've learned from our map work, and from the privilege of helping to convene the Rural Arts and Culture Working Group, is that we must also bridge the distance between all of these constituents. Thus, the internet (and the AOTR site, more specifically) cannot be the terminal point for these projects. We must keep making connections and creating the kinds of one-on-one conversations that ultimately expand perspectives. 

Art of the Rural possesses ambitious ideas on how we might begin to bridge this distance, and we hope to learn and collaborate with all of you as these plans are announced in the coming months. For three years, you have put your faith (and your a portion of your daily reading time) in our pages; your support has given us the imperative to think big about these projects.

Lastly, if you've hung on for this long in this prospective birthday letter, I'd like to share with you just one of the projects that gives us great hope for 2013: later this year, Art of the Rural will announce the creation of its recording and publishing imprint. Too many times over these three years we've come across texts, songs, and portfolios that deserve a wider audience, a new context, or a daring format to match its content. One way we can bridge distance is by working to steward this material into new rural, urban, and international hands. I am deeply excited about the potential projects that are on the table for the imprint, and I cannot wait to share more about this work

In closing, thank you again for the feedback, collaboration, and friendship you've shown everyone at Art of the Rural over the last three years. On behalf of our writers and partners, please accept our deepest thanks for your support.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The NEA Announces The Citizens' Institute on Rural Design

This afternoon the National Endowment for the Arts has announced the Citizens' Institute on Rural Design, an exciting new program that is currently seeking applications from rural communities to participate in its inaugural year of workshops, which will be made possible by a $7,000 grant and in-kind design and technical support valued at $35,000. The deadline for application is March 5, with a series of application-assistance calls beginning on January 23. 

This news represents an exciting continuation of the kinds of cross-sector innovations sparked by the NEA's Our Town program, and we encourage our colleagues and readers to travel to the Citizens' Institute on Rural Design site to learn more about this project. The CIRD is an NEA leadership initiative in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Project for Public Spaces, Inc., along with the Orton Family Foundation and the CommunityMatters Partnership.

Art of the Rural will be covering these developments in far greater detail in the coming months. Please find below an excerpt from the official press release which also places this program in context with the NEA's history of engagement in rural America:

CIRD (formerly known as "Your Town") works to help rural communities with populations of 50,000 or fewer enhance their quality of life and economic vitality through facilitated design workshops. The program brings together local leaders, non-profits, and community organizations with a team of specialists in design, planning, and creative placemaking to address challenges like strengthening economies, enhancing rural character, leveraging cultural assets, and designing efficient housing and transportation systems.
Since the program's inception in 1991, CIRD has convened more than 60 workshops in all regions of the country with results that range from the development of public art plans and business improvement districts, to funding for the design of waterfront parks and pedestrian-friendly streetscape improvements.
Each community selected to participate in the Institute will receive $7,000 to support planning and hosting a two-day workshop.  Communities will be required to provide approximately $7,000 in matching funds (cash or in-kind). CIRD will work with the communities to assemble teams of specialists based on the communities' individual needs. The workshops will be augmented with conference calls and webinar presentations led by experts who will cover topics related to rural design. The calls will also be open to the general public through CommunityMatters.
The new website at is a portal for resources on rural design gathered from diverse organizations across the country. It will be a place for interested citizens to connect with one another and get information about improving design in their own communities.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Kenyon Gradert To Discuss Midwest Culture On NPR This Morning -- Join The Conversation!

Photograph by Robert Josiah Bingaman; via fly over art tumblr

This morning from 11 to noon Central Time, Kenyon Gradert will appear on the NPR program Saint Louis on the Air to discuss Midwest culture. Also joining host Don Marsh: Mike Draper of the extraordinary art/clothing store RAYGUN. He recently published The Midwest: God's Gift To Planet Earth. It's going to be lively and wide-ranging discussion.

If folks have questions for these guests, they can call (314) 382-TALK (8255) or send an email to

Kenny would love to hear the questions and comments of Art of the Rural readers -- those within the Midwest and beyond. As his Course on Midwest Culture pieces suggest, this region has a particular rural ethos, and a unique rural-urban connection, that will make for an illuminating conversation this morning.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Course on Midwest Culture: Midwest Realism in the Contemporary Novel

Selection from the cover of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections

By Kenyon Gradert,  Course on Midwest Culture Editor

The consistently excellent N+1 recently published a wonderful piece by Nicholas Dames. In “The Theory Generation,” Dames paints the generational portrait examined by a string of some of today’s most popular American novelists, undergraduate English majors in the heyday of academic literary theory now attempting to engage its ambivalent legacy. About half of the novelists cited are New Yorkers; more are native or transplanted Midwesterners (often from scholarly families, interestingly).

Jeffrey Eugenides cites the influence of his hometown Detroit in his life and his writing, the setting for his award-winning Middlesex. Cal, the novel’s protagonist, attempts to come to terms with his family’s conflicted Greek-American identity in Detroit and eventually escapes to San Francisco to come to terms with his own intersex identity. The novel received praise for its lucid engagement of the American Dream, an idea that gained mythic stature with Midwestern Gilded Age figures like Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie and one whose decline is especially vivid in Midwestern rust belts like Detroit. Both haunted and inspired by his city, Eugenides commented in a BOMB interview with Jonathan Safran Foer "I think most of the major elements of American history are exemplified in Detroit, from the triumph of the automobile and the assembly line to the blight of racism, not to mention the music, Motown, the MC5, house, techno.”

St. Louis’ own Jonathan Franzen (with a more ambivalent relation to his hometown) semi-autobiographically tells of a suburban Midwestern family attempting to navigate changing times in his renowned The Corrections

A novelist not mentioned by the article who could fit the demographic of theory-heavy realists is David Foster Wallace. Though born in New York and a professor in California, Wallace grew up between Champaign and Urbana, Illinois as his father taught within the state’s flagship university.

Ben Lerner, born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, sets his Leaving the Atocha Station as a sort-of reverse of Eugenides’ abandonment of Detroit. The protagonist Adam, a slacker poet and escapee Midwesterner on fellowship in Madrid, “invents fictional alibis for others—such as the ‘fascism’ of his kind, liberal Midwestern father. ” Free in Madrid, he remains fixated on familial roots.

Lorrie Moore; photograph by Linda Nylind

Lorrie Moore wasn't born in the Midwest, but teaches here and sets her novels in the region. What’s more, Dames latches on to such a setting by using “Midwest” as a worthwhile description of the realist style that contrasts with the metropolitan university stylings of Theory:

Take, for instance, the protagonist of Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs, a young woman named Tassie raised in rural Wisconsin, who describes the shock of her first term at her state university:

"Twice a week a young professor named Thad, dressed in jeans and a tie, stood before a lecture hall of sunned farm kids like me and spoke thrillingly of Henry James’s masturbation of the comma. I was riveted. I had never before seen a man wear jeans with a tie."

The deadpan Midwestern humor, so pointedly stark in its syntax, brilliantly evokes the moment of initiation into Theory.

With an American populace marked by quick and constant geographic flux from education and career-pursuits—well-exemplified by these novelists—it is remarkable that the Midwest still holds such adjectival power in first-rate literary criticism. This small coterie of realist, theory-drenched novelists may have transferred their geography to their style, osmosis-like. Others may argue Dames relies on hackneyed stereotypes of the “prosaic Midwest” when the region has sprouted its fair share of magical realism too.

Richard C Longworth, Senior Fellow at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and author of Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism (an excellent work featured on my bibliography) summarizes on his blog The Midwesterner: Blogging the Global Midwest:

In earlier days, much Midwestern literature was super-realistic: the work of Theodore Dreiser and James T. Farrell come to mind, not to mention the wonderful work of black Midwestern authors such as Richard Wright and Lorraine Hansberry. But later writing reveals an urge to the bizarre, a sort of magic realism absent from the epics of the South or the hard-boiled policiers of the West. Keillor uses this. So does the baseball writing of W.P. Kinsella, such as Shoeless Joe (the inspiration for Field of Dreams) and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy. It's no accident that Ray Bradbury's Midwestern youth led to so much his work.

Perhaps we’re witnessing a shift back to the region’s realist origins. Perhaps, more likely, the Midwest is blooming into a wide proliferation of literary style just as in other regions, where Ray Bradbury’s spaceships and Lief Enger’s miracles can exist alongside the different realisms of Franzen et al. Regardless of style, the Midwest still serves as ambivalent setting or temporary home for some of the nation’s finest writers. Not quite dead yet; perhaps alive and well.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Listening: Lambchop - "Nice Without Mercy"

Kurt Wagner of Lambchop standing with his Beautillion Militaire 2000 series of paintings

The tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut is so deep, so overwhelming, that for many of us it's been a moment of re-orientation and reflection, of counting blessings and extending a hand to help in what ever distant way we can. 

One of those forms of grief and support has been folks' sharing of music and art in various mediums. On Facebook, The Alan Lomax Archive and Association for Cultural Equity offered a stirring "Peace in the Valley" by Joe Savage and, last night, Saturday Night Live's cold opening began with the New York City Children's Chorus singing "Silent Night." Such moments remind us that, while in the midst of national mourning, something as seemingly-insignificant as a piece of art becomes the thing we need the most.

Below, I offer "Nice Without Mercy," a song from Lambchop's acclaimed Mr. M. While Kurt Wagner's lyrics within Mr. M often meditate on the loss of his friend Vic Chestnut, these songs, to my listening, are less about a particular context and more about a process of grief, redemption, and the unexpected beauty and compassion we find along the way: